KOSCIUSKO COUNTY — In January of 1966 the Kosciusko County Historical Society was formed. One hundred sixty-five persons attended the first meeting held at the courthouse. From that beginning fifty years ago, the society has grown to nearly 500 members and has become the caretaker of the Old County Jail (now a museum), the Chinworth Bridge (Greenway Trailhead), and the Pound Store in Oswego (oldest commercial building in county). But the society does not only preserve historical sites, they also are the caretakers of the official county records, and business, family and personal histories.
In early times every village had at least one man who was a professional horse trader, and it was not at all uncommon for some of them to trade horses two and three times in the same day. Owing to the number of horse-traders in the county, it was only natural that horse-racing followed, and there were a number of farmers who delighted to own the fastest quarter or half-mile horse in his neighborhood. Trotting horses were unknown in those days and the only contests were running races. Even out in the country there were race tracks. One was on the farm of two brothers by the name of Gregg west of Warsaw a few miles.
The tracks of those days were two straightaway paths about thirty feet apart. One race track started not far from the East Ward school house and ran southward in parallel lines for either a quarter or a half-mile.
Here in Warsaw Allen P. Tibbitts was always ready for a “hoss race.” Bill Holman, who in one of the races in East Warsaw, had his collar-bone broken and a shoulder dislocated by his horse bolting the track, and suddenly passing a tree on one side when Holman was intending him to go on the other. Knocked off his horse, he was picked up and taken to his home where he lay for four months before he could go out again.
At Leesburg the Sloan brothers would accommodate anyone who came along; at North Webster was Ephraim Muirhead, a pleasant gentleman who had raised many fine horses
In the same neighborhood as Muirhead, lived Tom O’Brien, a blacksmith by trade, and the only one in all the country, perhaps, that could make cow-bells, which he could do to perfection. What is more he had a fine business in making bells for all farmers used them in the early days for cattle and sheep because those animals were pastured at large. He was an exceedingly industrious man, who loved horse racing.
A misfortune of the early times was the horse thieves. A gang of horse thieves kept the country in something of a commotion during the 1840s and ‘50s. The gang’s business ranged from north of Toledo, Ohio, southwesterly, through Noble and Kosciusko counties and on towards Winamac and thence through Illinois. There were many places around the county where horses could be hidden due to the marsh lands. In 1858, the leader of the gang, McDougal, was captured in Noble County, not far from the Kosciusko County line. He was tried and found guilty. The verdict was unanimously for death, and McDougal was hung in Nobel County. With his death, the gang broke up and horse stealing ended.
The Historical Society’s 50th anniversary event, Passport to Kosciusko County, is a free activity for the whole family. Pick up your passport at the Old Jail Museum or any library in the county then go on an adventure of discovery as you navigate our county finding historic sites, enjoying festivals, and participating in events. After you have enjoyed at least 50 items (there are more than 90 in the passport) bring your passport into the Old Jail Museum to be entered into a drawing for prizes. Three winners will be awarded when the State torch is in Warsaw, Sept. 29.